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Review: The ACM Awards felt like country music’s bummer of the year, y’all

Academy Of Country Music Awards

Keith Urban, left, Miranda Lambert and Billy Gibbons perform Sunday during the 51st Academy of Country Music Awards.

(Ethan Miller / Getty Images)

There was a great reaction shot during Sunday’s 51st annual Academy of Country Music Awards that captured more than it likely intended.

Roving the crowd as Miranda Lambert blazed through ZZ Top’s song “Tush,” the camera landed for a few seconds on Eric Church and Chris Stapleton, both looking stunned into submission, as though they couldn’t believe a woman was rocking as hard as Lambert was.

Or maybe they were just shocked that someone had finally picked up the pace.

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Sunday’s show, broadcast live on CBS from the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, was a remarkably low-energy affair, especially in light of the ACM’s repeated insistence that its flagship event is “country music’s party of the year.” (That bit of branding is meant to distinguish the ACM Awards from the more refined Country Music Assn. Awards.)

Last year the ACMs lived up to that motto — and then some — with an overblown spectacle at the cavernous AT&T Stadium near Dallas. But a little of that razzle-dazzle would’ve been welcome at this year’s edition, which offered one lackluster performance after another, beginning with a nearly comatose “Huntin’, Fishin’ and Lovin’ Every Day” by the show’s host, Luke Bryan.

Typically one of country’s most animated stars, Bryan looked spent from the get-go here, perhaps because he was dreading the painfully unfunny banter he’d been assigned to deliver alongside Dierks Bentley, who took over co-hosting duties from Bryan’s regular partner, Blake Shelton.

Bentley’s deeply awkward vibe — which extended to his shaky performance of “Somewhere on a Beach” — made you miss Shelton’s more relaxed manner. Then again, Shelton himself was nothing to savor as he moved like a zombie through his aptly titled new single, “Came Here to Forget.”

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More dreary moments came from Kenny Chesney, whose “Noise” sounded like U2 minus a pulse; Chris Young and Cassadee Pope in a pitchy “Think of You”; Brett Eldredge, charmless in “Drunk on Your Love”; and Tim McGraw, who betrayed the spirit of his ballad “Humble and Kind” by surrounding himself, cult-leader-style, with a group of wide-eyed sycophants.

Was it any wonder that even the night’s big winners — including Jason Aldean, named entertainer of the year, and Stapleton, whose “Traveller” earned album of the year — looked like they couldn’t wait to get out of there?

Not everything made you regret watching the ACMs instead of the iHeartRadio Music Awards, which also went down Sunday night. Flanked by Keith Urban and ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons, Lambert did indeed deliver the needed jolt of charisma that Church’s floored expression suggested.

The happy style-hoppers of Little Big Town made ample room for Trombone Shorty in a funky “Stay All Night.” And a much-hyped duet between Dolly Parton and Katy Perry was good, proudly tacky fun — even if the chorus of Parton’s “9 to 5” had you looking at the clock, wondering how soon this thing would be over.

Twitter: @mikaelwood

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